SteveJeltz's picture
By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Apr 30 2018 12:00pm
0
Login or register to post comments
4450 views


Can Pauper Be Fixed With a Ban?

 

 Fall of the Hammer

The Ban Hammer?

Pauper is currently such a fast growing format that not only major tournament organizers like Channel Fireball and Star City Games but especially Wizards of the Coast have a vested interest in the format's prolonged success. But the new light cast on Pauper has also revealed one of its major limitations: if not one, there is a consensus best set of decks. Format creativity is stifled by the clear success of these top dogs, and most recently, there is a renewed interest in looking to the Pauper Banned List as a way to improve the format.

Blue Sun's Zenith

The Blue Problem

The big Pauper discussion of the day is bannings. While no individual card is so egregiously powerful that it is warping the format around it, the stark reality of Pauper today is that it is and always has been dominated by blue decks. Pauper is an Eternal format, like Vintage, Legacy and to some extent, Modern. And the reality of the history of Magic is that there is an obvious color imbalance with Blue coming out on top. 

Eight of the format's ten most played cards are blue. The most popular creature in Pauper? Augur of Bolas. And the dominance of this blue menace persists from Mono Blue Delver decks, to Izzet Delver, to Izzet Blitz, to Tireless Tribe combo, Dimir Alchemy... even Tron at it's heart is a blue deck.

What do all these decks have in common? Absolutely fantastic and consistent card selection. Ponder, Brainstorm and the format's #1 most popular card Preordain all give blue decks the card selection tools that other colors can only make up through redundancy. Throw in the free card draw power of Gush, the pure efficiency of Counterspell, and the raw efficiency of Delver of Secrets and you begin to observe that the tools available to the color blue have given Pauper what Mark Rosewater has called "the Amoeba problem": decks getting to play a combination of the best spells regardless of their variance of strategy. Choose any blue deck and they run at least two of the aforementioned 6 cards. Izzet Delver, the most consistent deck in the format, runs all six. Is the reason of the success of these cards based on the success of Izzet Delver, or is the success of Izzet Delver because it plays every one of these ultra powerful and efficient cards? I happen to lean towards the latter.

Red Elemental Blast

Can Anything Beat Blue?

The short answer is, "Yes". But neither as consistently as one should like when there is a consensus best strategy nor without overwhelmingly bending the metagame towards its dominance. Remember how I said that 8 of the 10 most played cards in Pauper are Blue? It should come as no surprise that the single most played sideboard card in all of Pauper is Pyroblast, a blue hate card. Some might even argue that the reason for the adaptation of Delver towards Izzet is to be able to incorporate powerful mirror cards like Pyroblast, Lightning Bolt, and Electrickery

As to the individual non-blue deck that performs the most consistently against Blue? That would be Boros Monarch, a midrange deck that combines flying defense, efficient removal and multiple raw card advantage engines to try to combat the tempo and consistency of blue decks like Izzet Delver. Some might even argue that the success of Boros Monarch as the format's most consistently performing midrange deck has ultimately been caused by Blue's dominance. Except that the matchup still isn't that great. If Boros Monarch is a predator deck, it isn't beating blue decks consistently enough to drop them down to their place in the format. Especially since this week's Izzet Delver can just adapt to next week's Tireless Tribe, Dimir amalgam, or even blue-based Tron. 

A few other decks seem like at times they have positive matchups against Blue Tempo decks at least: Stompy, Elves, and in my experience Slivers. But none of these decks have been able to carve their place at the top to balance out the blue dominance.

Wheel of Fortune

So What Should Be Banned?

The history of the Banned List in Pauper shows that WOTC is very reluctant to ban any individual card unless it is so powerful that it warps that format around it. Cloudpost was one such card, and was so good that for a long time Blue/Red 8-Post was the only viable big mana deck in the format. Invigorate set up consistent Turn-2 infect kills. Cranial Plating made Affinity the undisputed best Aggro deck. And Peregrine Drake wrecked a whole summer. Through in all the cards needed to ban Storm out of the format Frantic Search, Grapeshot, Temporal Fissure and Empty the Warrens, and there's really only one precedent for banning a card based on increasing format diversity instead of the raw power of one card: Cloud of Faeries

Because Cloud of Faeries not only drove the engine for Nightscape Familiar based combo kills, but it also set up the most powerfully oppressive opening in all of Pauper, which was Island, Island, Cloud of Faeries, untap two Islands and shut down anything, Pauper at one time had the unique problem that both the best control / combo deck and also the best aggro / tempo strategy hinged on one card: Cloud of Faeries. So I use this card and its banning as the precedent basis of contemplating a surgical ban to improve format diversity today. The other precedent card is Treasure Cruise which for the brief period it was legal posed only one question: "What's the best Treasure Cruise deck?" Now, this was no surprise since ultimately Treasure Cruise had to be banned in every Eternal format except Vintage even though it never established the same grip on Standard.

Preordain

Solution 1: Ban Preordain. This is the option I most advocate towards. Preordain currently gets played in a whopping 42% of 5-0 League decks. The results in the Sunday Pauper Challenge are even more staggering. Two weeks ago, when I first advocated for banning the card, the Sunday challenge afterwards featured 30 copies of Preordain in the Top 8 decks. This week was a little better, but the Preordain count in the Top 8 decks was still a whopping 20 copies, far more than any other card. 

Why Preordain, and not Ponder or any of the other dominant blue cards? It's too ubiquitous. Because it also fits neatly into control strategies, Preordain sees roughly 30% more play than Ponder or any other card in Pauper, blue or otherwise. For comparison sake, there are more Preordains in Pauper than their are Lightning Bolts in Modern at 35%, Walking Ballistas in Standard, 32%, or any other format staple in any format save for Legacy's similar Brainstorm problem, 59%.

But here's my argument against Preordain: it's too good at fixing mulligans. Blue decks with Preordain may save as many as half their potential Mulligan decisions based on having Preordain in its opening hand. No other color gets that level of consistent card selection forcing other decks to turn to redundancy as the only way to ensure consistency.

Augur of Bolas

Solution 2: Ban Augur of Bolas. While not utterly overpowering, Augur of Bolas is the most played creature in Pauper. While the 1/3 body for 1U makes it on par with a Maritime Guard, the card draw and selection ability for the low, low cost ensures that even with deck building restrictions, Augur of Bolas becomes the best looking Elvish Visionary on the planet. Even though Sea Gate Oracle does a similar thing with the same body and a guaranteed card for just 1 more generic mana, the difference between 1U and 2U is so huge in our Turn-4 format that outside of Tron decks, no one bothers to play Sea Gate Oracle.

The variety of decks that run Augur of Bolas include Izzet Delver, Mono Blue Delver, Tireless Tribe Combo, Dimir Alchemy, Blue-White Prowess, and Izzet Blitz. But do you know what these six decks also have in common? They all run four copies of Preordain.

Other Ban Worthy Considerations: The most frequent non-blue cards I hear requested for a ban are the Conspiracy: Take the Crown cards that enable the Monarch mechanic. Once occupied by a diversity of Blue / Red Mulldrifter decks, Mono Black Devotion Gray Merchant of Asphodel decks and Kuldotha Rebirth Boros decks, these days, if you're going to play Midrange in Pauper, there's only one viable option: Monarch. Boros Monarch is the best and most consistent build of the these. Orzhov Monarch also sees some play. And at least one idiot out there can't stop running back his Rakdos Midrange deck featuring three copies of Thorn of the Black Rose

The Monarch mechanic provides something no other deck or card can offer: consistent, free, passive card advantage. In a format of commons, how fair is it that some decks get to run an indestructible one-sided Howling Mine while the rest of us are wrestling with the best commons that bend New World Order? The only raw card advantage machines that can compete with the Monarch are the Ghostly Flicker loops currently favored by Tron.

So if we ban a blue card, does that also mean we need to take away Palace Sentinels? The argument here is that if you nerf the best deck sometimes the second best deck will become overwhelmingly dominant. I'm not convinced. I think the strength of Boros Monarch is partially to do with its good blue matchup. Cut down blue and maybe we'll see more of the decks that are currently held back by blue tempo dominance, like Red-Green Tron.

Teferi's Puzzle Box

What are your thoughts? How does Pauper solve the puzzle of format diversity? Do we accept the power of Blue? Do we wait for Master's Set level downgrades and hope that they infuse new power into the format ala Burning-Tree Emissary? Or do we petition WOTC for a ban?

Leave me a comment, and I hope that as a community we can look for the best solution together.

 

Keep Having Fun Out There,

 

Steve Jeltz